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What Regulates the Lifespan of Nematodes?

    The Aging Process

    • While researching the aging process, molecular biologist Dr. Cynthia Kenyon noted that mice and bats have significantly different lifespans, yet are fundamentally similar mammals. She concluded that some form of control at the cellular level accounted for the fact that mice live for two years and bats for 50 years. She commenced looking for this aging process control using nematodes.

    Aging Genes

    • A gene connected with aging had been identified in the 1990s, but nobody understood exactly how it worked. Dr. Kenyon mutated the gene, called "daf-2," which increased the nematode's lifespan by 30 to 50 percent. The worm's behavior was also altered to induce more "youthful" activity. The gene controlling this is called "daf-16."

    Gene Functions

    • These two genes permit tissues to respond to the hormones affecting lifespan. They are also connected to subordinate genes that control antioxidant levels, immune system strength and a general ability to repair cells. Alterations to these genes slow down the aging process in nematodes, and in the future, perhaps that of humans as well.

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